Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I'm not sure what prompted it, but a picture came to my mind recently that captured my thoughts and led to this article.  I saw a soldier dressed in a crisp clean uniform and shiny shoes. He was marching with a group of soldiers on parade while the crowd cheered them on and the band played.  It wasn't the celebration of those who had been in battle and won a great victory.  Rather it was the pomp and ceremony of those who had acquired a position and were proudly displaying their ranks.  There was a certain arrogance and superiority in their demeanor.  They were on exhibit as models of the perfect soldier, but they were not an accurate representation of those who were active in service.
In contrast, I saw another soldier who was in a trench.  His uniform was crumpled, torn and covered with dirt, blood and sweat. His shoes were nearly worn out; his body was too.  He had fought in one battle after another and had been wounded numerous times, but he refused to give up.  He was holding his ground against the enemy. It seemed he was beaten, but he knew better. 
The parade soldier considered him a disgrace to the uniform and a shame to the regiment for putting himself in a position to be wounded by the enemy.  Why couldn’t he be more like these polished, proud soldiers?  Why couldn’t he uphold the dignity of the uniform and follow the regulations?
Yet the wounded soldier was the one who understood what the war was all about.  He was the one actually changing the course of history for his generation and those who would come after them.  He was the one who denied himself for the sake of a greater purpose.  He wasn’t afraid to confront the enemy face to face because he was equipped and experienced in warfare.  He knew how to conquer the enemy and gain inroads into his territory.  He was willing to face danger, because he already knew the outcome.
The first soldier was nothing more than a showpiece holding up a public image of a warrior, but lacking the authenticity of experience and practical application, yet he received all the glory while the trench soldier was unnoticed. Although he appeared to be the perfect soldier, he wasn't. The soldier in the trench was.
There is a vast difference between the two.  One knows Jesus personally and truly follows Him while the other leads a religious life based on what he has been taught about Jesus.  The parade soldiers are “doing church” in the natural.  They don’t need the Holy Spirit because they know all the ropes.  They don’t need His leadership because they have learned all about leadership from other parade soldiers.  They think they can carry on without any “outside help”, because they have never seen the battle.  They put forth a great show, but one thing is lacking – the power that comes only from the Holy Spirit.
I wonder how we would feel about the Apostle Paul if he lived in our day. He was definitely a trench soldier. But he also knew what it was like to be a parade soldier, an empty showpiece.  He had been a Pharisee who thought he was righteous and doing the work of God as he marched in the parades to the beat of the cheering crowd. He knew what it was like to hold a position that commanded the respect of other men and put him in a place of power over them.
But one encounter with Jesus Christ caused him to leave all that behind to become a trench soldier – a real soldier, one who understood by experience what was truly important, who understood the enemy, who understood the power of the Holy Spirit that was within him, and the cost of the war. Jesus had met many of those Pharisees and warned His followers against being like them.  So, Paul left behind the rank of parade soldier to be promoted to the perfect soldier, one who was more than outward show, who had substance, the Spirit of God, at work in him.
As he embarked on this new journey, he was almost always surrounded by controversy and chaos, yet he was never the one who caused it. He simply spoke the truth of the gospel with all the power and authority of God working through him.  That’s the mark of the perfect soldier - the power of God working freely through them.  That was enough to stir up every demon spirit who wanted to stop the gospel from being preached.  Everywhere Paul went, there were enemies of the cross who would twist his words and his purpose. He was persecuted and placed in dangerous circumstances on a regular basis.  Did that stop him from preaching the Word?  No!  He understood the war, the enemy, and the outcome.  He wasn't worried about his life or his reputation. He wanted to please God more than anything else.  He wanted to fight a good fight, finish the course God had set before him and receive the reward he knew was waiting for him.
Paul wrote about the "trench soldiers" versus the "parade soldiers" in 1 Corinthians 4:9-14.  "For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.  We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.  Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;  And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:  Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.  I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.”
The parade soldiers may look down on the trench soldiers, but their well-being depends on them. They may wonder why these trench soldiers can't keep their clothes clean and stay far enough away from the enemy to keep from getting wounded. They may say if that soldier would shape-up, there wouldn't be so much controversy surrounding them. But while the "parade soldier" stands by or retreats, allowing the enemy to advance, the trench soldier gains ground and holds it.  He gets the job done.
Paul didn't try to cause trouble. He didn't do or say things just so he could add another badge to his collection or another type of persecution to his list. But he would not back down from the truth. He would not drop the banner of Jesus Christ and run. Why? Because he knew what was really important, not just for himself, but for the whole world. Not just for his generation, but for ours, too.
The whole purpose of this comparison is to ask ourselves these questions:  “Am I a parade soldier or a trench solider?  Am I serious about what I do in the Kingdom of God?  Is it a sideline of my life, or my whole life?  Have I given my all to Jesus, following His command to bring others to Him, or am I just “doing church” on a natural level?  Am I working in my own power, or in the power of the Holy Spirit?”
A parade soldier may look like the perfect soldier, but that’s only in the eyes of the world.  When the battle comes, they are not equipped because they are not fully led by God’s Spirit.  So they are unable to accomplish anything of any real value. Their accomplishments are on a temporary, natural level rather than a spiritual one.  They are distracted by the crowd around them and the expectations of their peers.  
A trench soldier isn’t out to win accolades from the world, but to please Jesus and set others free from the power of the enemy.  He is fully engaged in the war and oblivious to any outside distraction.  He does what is right, regardless of the cost.
In the early days of the Church, there was a whole army of trench soldiers, and they ‘turned the world upside down’.  God is calling for soldiers in this generation who are willing to give their all to make a difference in the world and to call out others in the church to join them.  He needs those who are not entangled with this life, but are sold out to Jesus Christ and willing to enlist, having counted the cost.  He doesn’t draft soldiers; we have to enlist.  But before we enlist, there are a few things we need to know.
One of the promises Jesus gave us is that people would hate us...just like they hated Him. In John 15:19, He said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Then in 2 Timothy 3:12 we are told, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
Jesus didn’t try to hide any of this from us, neither did any of the apostles.  They wanted us to be prepared and realize the importance and seriousness of the service we are entering, that this is a war.  We didn’t start it, and we are not to add to it.  We are simply to stand for what is right according to God’s Word.  And that causes the turmoil. But at the same time, it brings freedom to ourselves and those we minister to.
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier."  (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
If we evaluate our position and find that we are a parade solider, we don’t have to settle for that rank.  We can move up to be the perfect soldier, complete in Christ, working in the trenches and the Spirit of the Lord working with us.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it worth the sacrifice?  Yes.  For now and eternity.

“Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.”

Psalm 144:1

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


            Our church basketball team was competing against some intimidating players and the score was uncomfortably close. The other team pulled ahead in the last few minutes of the game, and our team had a decision to make. With just a few minutes left they could play half-heartedly just to make it through the game, or they could press in and finish well. They chose to give it their all, and they won the game in the final seconds.  We were on our feet cheering wildly for them.  The effort they put forth from the very start was important, but they had to accelerate when it got close to the end because the situation called for it.
According to Scripture, we are living in the last days and we have a choice to make. We can casually live our lives, blending into the darkness around us, or we can press into the Kingdom of God with all our time, resources and effort and be overcomers.  I can’t help but wonder if we are not wasting precious time that could be used for Jesus. Are we busy entertaining ourselves and securing our present and future comfort instead of living the gospel and making it known to others? Or have we accepted the challenge to accelerate and make the final seconds count?  We are facing an intimidating foe, but we already have the assurance of victory if we follow Jesus Christ to the end. 
Are we giving Him our all, or have we become caught up in the spirit of this world? There are a few minutes left in this dispensation of time and it is crucial that we examine how we are spending it. 
In these last days, we have at our disposal the Spirit of the Living God Who has chosen to enable us to do the work of His kingdom by placing in us His power and His wisdom.  When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and explained what was happening.  He said, "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." (Acts 2:16-18)
We are still living in the last days. His Spirit will still work in us and through us, so why isn't He? Could it possibly be because we are too full of the world to allow Him in?  That we are just going through the motions of religion, instead of being empowered by the Spirit?  When we make the decision to lose our lives so we can gain His, we will learn the value of depending on Him and obeying Him even when it doesn’t make sense to us. It will change everything about our lives and will cost all our time and effort.  We become powerless when we are not willing to surrender everything to gain Christ. 
Another passage of Scripture concerning the last days describes this dilemma in detail. 2 Timothy 3:1-4 in the Amplified Bible depicts the moral and spiritual condition of our times. "But understand this, that in the last days will come (set in) perilous times of great stress and trouble [hard to deal with and hard to bear]."
Think about it. Most people are so stressed that they are like a rubber band stretched to the limit and ready to break. There is trouble everywhere we turn making life in general hard to bear, not to mention all the catastrophes.  Trying to juggle all the responsibilities and chaos in our own strength is stressful.  Let’s read on.
"For people will be lovers of self and [utterly] self-centered, lovers of money and aroused by an inordinate [greedy] desire for wealth, proud and arrogant and contemptuous boasters. They will be abusive (blasphemous, scoffing), disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane.  [[They will be] without natural [human] affection (callous and inhuman), relentless (admitting of no truce or appeasement); [they will be] slanderers (false accusers, troublemakers), intemperate and loose in morals and conduct, uncontrolled and fierce, haters of good.  [They will be] treacherous [betrayers], rash, [and] inflated with self-conceit. [They will be] lovers of sensual pleasures and vain amusements more than and rather than lovers of God."
Pick up a newspaper. Watch the news on television or check it out on your mobile device.  Just take a look around you.  It is incredible how accurately this portion of Scripture describes our world today.  How did we get here?  Verse five gives us the answer: "For [although] they hold a form of piety (true religion), they deny and reject and are strangers to the power of it [their conduct belies the genuineness of their profession]. Avoid [all] such people [turn away from them]."  He says those who should have the power of God active in their lives have turned to a form of religion and do not have His Spirit working through them.
When we lose the power of God in our lives, we fall into the same pattern as the world.   We begin to view salvation as a transaction made with the organized church instead of the genuineness of the powerful transformation the Holy Spirit brings in our lives. We talk fondly about the power our forefathers had in their lives but are strangers to the power of the Holy Spirit in our own. So, we struggle to carry on His work without Him.
There is a downward spiral to this kind of life.  We are at a loss as how to handle our own spiritual struggles or those of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are at a loss because we lack the power of God to give us His wisdom and to guide and empower us.
When we are in charge of the gospel, we begin to make changes to our beliefs and God's commandments so that they accommodate our "form of religion".  That’s why so many preach a cheap, easy gospel that fits well into our busy lifestyles. It is a neatly packaged gospel that doesn't offend anyone, doesn’t cost us anything and that we can manage and control.  That is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The essence of His gospel is total surrender and total freedom; persecution and blessing; spiritual warfare and perfect peace; meekness and power; losing and gaining.
When will we get tired of being defeated in our prayer life, our relationships, and trying to micro-manage God?  It is not our responsibility to figure out everything.  God doesn't need our help.  He desires our surrender and for us to get close enough to hear Him.  If we can figure it out and control it, then it is not God! 
We cannot save people by manipulating the mood and atmosphere. We cannot change people's hearts by coercing them to repeat a prayer. If God is not drawing them, they cannot come to Him. We need the power of the Holy Spirit if we are to do the work Jesus commissioned us to do.  That’s why Jesus sent Him.
2 Peter 3 speaks of the last days with its "scoffers, walking after their own lusts" and wasting time with unbelief.  It says "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." But he calls for those who will hear to draw close to God and stay faithful, to look for the "coming of the day of God" and for "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”  Then he tells us, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen."
The more we allow the Spirit of God to develop the nature and power of Jesus Christ in us, the more He can accomplish through us.  Now is the time for the true Church, the Body of Christ, to rise up and be the Church, without spot and blemish, completely sold out to Him.  Until we know Him intimately, we will remain strangers to the power of the Gospel and the Spirit Who has been given to us. 
The church in Galatia had become confused about the true gospel and was following after false teaching.  Paul wrote to them and said, “I am surprised and astonished that you are so quickly turning renegade and deserting Him Who invited and called you by the grace (unmerited favor) of Christ (the Messiah) [and that you are transferring your allegiance] to a different [even an opposition] gospel.  Not that there is [or could be] any other [genuine Gospel], but there are [obviously] some who are troubling and disturbing and bewildering you [with a different kind of teaching which they offer as a gospel] and want to pervert and distort the Gospel of Christ (the Messiah) [into something which it absolutely is not].  (Galatians 1:6-7 - Amplified Bible)
We are in the last days.  There are many false teachings and false spirits that claim to be Christian, but if they are not following the teachings of Jesus, they are not Christian.  They are proclaiming a man-made teaching in His name, but are without His power.  We cannot afford to be slack in these last days.  We need to read His Word for ourselves and believe what it says no matter who offers a different gospel.  Now is the time to accelerate.  Now is the time to live and move and have our being in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are in the “last seconds”.  What are we going to do?

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